Dunleavy defenders withdraw from recall case, attacking judicial impartiality

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks to reporters at a January 2020 fundraiser for Stand Tall With Mike, the group fighting the effort to recall the governor. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

The organization opposing the recall campaign against Gov. Mike Dunleavy has told its lawyers to withdraw its appeal of the recall.

Stand Tall with Mike said in a statement that “the public is better served by devoting resources to educating the public why this recall is unjustified (and) a waste of public resources.”

The group also said it’s clear the Alaska Supreme Court is determined to let the recall effort go forward.

Stand Tall with Mike is concerned about Chief Justice Joel Bolger’s ability to be impartial in the case. The group said the Justice “directly participated in the events that gave rise to one of the recall charges.” That’s in reference to when Dunleavy failed to appoint a Palmer Superior Court judge within the legally required 45 days, which prompted Bolger to issue a statement saying Dunleavy must appoint someone nominated by the Alaska Judicial Council to fill the seat. The issue became one of the four grounds for recall listed in the application to recall Dunleavy.

A clerk for the court said she told lawyers in a conference call on Friday that she wasn’t aware that Bolger would recuse himself, and that if anyone had a concern, they should file a motion.

Dunleavy responded to the Stand Tall with Mike’s announcement while talking with Alaska Public Media’s Lori Townsend on Talk of Alaska Tuesday, Feb. 18. He said he recently heard rumblings about the decision.

“The belief was that it was pointless to continue with the legal approach to this,” Dunleavy said.

“Well, then, what would be the recourse?,” Townsend asked. “I mean, what would they propose to do if you can’t go to the courts?”

“That the courts are going to put this on the ballot. And that we have a campaign,” Dunleavy responded.

Recall Dunleavy campaign manager Claire Pywell says Stand Tall with Mike’s statement was a disappointing attack on the supreme court.

“And it shows they haven’t learned their lesson,” she said. “They still are showing this lack of respect for other branches of government, and they’re continuing to attack the judicial branch.”

Another of the four grounds for recall alleges that Dunleavy violated the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches by saying that he was vetoing $334,700 of court funding because of court rulings upholding Medicaid funding of abortions.

A spokesperson for the Department of Law said the state will continue its appeal, seeking to block the recall from moving forward. It believes the division’s decision and an opinion by the state’s attorney general were correct and that the issues need to be addressed by the supreme court.

The supreme court ruled last week that the recall campaign can start gathering signatures. It will require more than 71,000 to put the recall on the ballot.

This story has been updated.

Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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